After the finish to the World Series of Boxing regular season, we have finally arrived at the Season IV Playoffs. The top eight teams, six of whom will be facing off this weekend, have worked hard for their places during one of the most tightly contested seasons thus far.
Azerbaijan Baku Fires vs. Dolce & Gabbana Italia Thunder
The Azerbaijan Baku Fires have been a sensation this season. Their performances have been first rate as they clocked up a notable win against the defending champions, the Astana Arlans Kazakhstan and took a point from the Cubans in Baku. If the Fires home record is exceptional, then the Italian’s has been record breaking. Thus it is critical that “Bad Boys” from Azerbaijan make the most of this opening home leg.
The Italia Thunder will start the evening with this season’s most sensational new Light Flyweight (46-49kg), the Philippines Mark Barriga, who has gone 3-0 in the WSB to claim the number two rank for the category this season. His opponent Khamza Nametov meanwhile, despite losing to number one seed and World bronze medallist Yosbany Veitia, has otherwise been unbeaten in his other two WSB bouts this season. The 21 year old is an exciting prospect and this could be a benchmark bout for the intensity of the match that is to follow.
Light Welterweight (64kg) Gaybatulla Gadzhialiyev of the Fires scored a major victory when he beat Cuba’s Yasnier Toledo in Week 5. Yet he then slipped up against Russia’s Maxim Dadashev in his subsequent outing. The Azerbaijan management will want to see a return for form from him against the struggling Renato De Donato.
The biggest bout of the match (in more ways than one) will be between the Heavyweights (91kg) Clemente Russo of the Thunder and Abdulkadir Abdullayev of the Fires. Indeed the word Heavyweights could also be used in more way than one here as both boxers are amongst the most experienced fighters in the WSB. Abdullayev has boxed for the Azeri team for all four seasons, clocking up eight wins in his ten bouts.
He has yet to defeat one of the top draw WSB boxers however, slipping up against Filip Hrgovic and new sensation Vasilii Levit for example. He will therefore have his hands full in the current World Champion Clemente Russo from Italy. Russo’s record now stands at 19-2, but one of those losses came this season. Russo is a man whose boxing is based on total self-confidence, but has he been affected by this season’s slip up? Only time will tell.
Team Germany vs. Astana Arlans Kazakhstan
The German Franchise has been a solid and consistent piece of boxing machinery this season, but now they face the defending champions in what must be their toughest task so far this year. The Arlans themselves have been less dominant than in their last campaign. Yet we are now at the business end of the season; the new boys in the team have been tested, the prospects have been blooded and now it is time for the A-list boxers to take the reins.
Thus The WSB’s most successful ever boxer Sergiy Derevyanchenko will once again grace the canvas for his adopted homeland of Kazakhstan at Middleweight (75kg). His unsurpassed 21-1 record which includes wins over a Who’s Who of the WSB Middleweight category will be put on the line against a confident 21 year old in Denis Radovan.
For his age, the German has plenty of experience with a record of 3-1 and is so far unbeaten this season. On paper, this is not enough to ruffle Derevyanchenko’s feathers though. But boxing is a sport that can be full of surprises. At an individual level, this is a no-lose situation for the young German. Whatever happens he will gain tremendous experience in this one… And if he causes an upset? Well that would be big news.
Ireland’s Michael Conlan and Germany’s own Artem Harutyunyan will take to the canvas at Bantamweight (56kg) and Light Welterweight respectively. Both are impressive emerging boxers in the WSB circuit. Conlan will make his first appearance in the competition since a spell in the United States last season. His opponent, Meirbolat Toitov of the Arlans, has been a solid performer since he made his first outing at the end of last year’s Regular Season and has clocked up a 4-1 record, which should make this a very close bout indeed.
Finally as we have noted from the moment of his astonishing debut… Watch out for the Arlans’ new Heavyweight Vasilii Levit! He has moved to number two in the rankings after racking up a 4-0 record so far in his first ever season. His athleticism and footwork continue to surprise us and at just 26, he has plenty of time as a heavyweight to improve further. His opponent, Germany’s Artur Mann (1-1), will have to deal with an absolute monster on Saturday.
Russian Boxing Team vs. Ukraine Otamans
No need to explain why this match is a little special. In the build-up to the event, the staff of both Franchises earned considerable kudos and respect for their highly professional conduct in what are clearly very difficult circumstances.
Nonetheless, some of the world’s top boxers will be doing battle in the ring in what will certainly be an incredible evening of boxing and sportsmanship. World silver medallist Vladimir Nikitin of Russia and Mykola Butsenko of the Otamans are an obvious couple to pick out for a potentially excellent bout. Butsenko has a mixed record of 4-2 across two seasons but has knockout power as he proved in Week 2 this year.
He is a great front foot boxer but hasn’t yet faced anyone of the calibre of Nikitin. The Russian must have one of the hardest right hands in the Bantamweight category and has clocked up a 5-2 record across two seasons of WSB. Interestingly he hasn’t lost in the WSB since May 2012 as he sat the 2013 campaign out, before returning, unbeaten this year. The pair is ranked 6th (Nikitin) and 7th so this one could be close.
The Ukrainians possess a paper advantage at Light Welterweight and Middleweight with Denys Berinchyk and Dmytro Mytrofanov facing comparatively inexperienced opponents in the WSB. As a world bronze medallist however, Artem Chebotarev could give Mytrofanov a serious run for his money, especially when boxing at home. Thus the performance of Denys Berinchyk and Heavyweight Otamans boxer Siarhei Karneyeu could prove to be tactically pivotal factor in this match, with the other bouts extremely close on paper.